Rating: PG 13
Summary: Zitao knows where he should go but is not sure if he will be welcomed like he was told.
Author's notes: Hi! Thank you for giving a beautiful prompt! I have to admit that it wasn't easy to write a story around it (I just really think it was a lovely idea that I had to do something with it), so I'm sorry if this isn't how you pictured the story will be. Still, I hope you will be able to enjoy it :)
For months, Zitao fooled himself. He made himself believe that he could continue doing whatever it was he was doing – performing with his group at the concerts or TV shows, doing photoshoots, going to rehearsals, etc. He listened to his managers that everything would be okay soon enough, that he could get what he was yearning for after pushing himself more to do what he was asked to do. He thought everything would be fine. He convinced himself that everything was worth it despite his surroundings being too bleak.
Unfortunately, a person could only fool himself for so long.
Sometimes, it would only take one call to make everything stop.
How Zitao loved hearing that voice. How Zitao missed it. He thought and almost accepted that he would never hear it mentioning his name.
Zitao was seventeen when he first heard that voice.
Before that, he though that only his mother's voice had the ability to soothe him, to control him and to make him feel like flying. However, this deep voice that speaks clean Mandarin could make Zitao believe even the most impossible fairy tale.
It surprised Zitao that this voice from a complete stranger had a power that his mother's voice did not possess. He was able to shut her out. He was able to ignore her voice that was begging to come home. However, that voice had the ability to break him to thousands of pieces. It made him stop fighting a senseless battler. It woke him up to see the dark reality around him. Zitao could never understand how that voice could easily penetrate the pores of his body and make him listen. In just one sentence, even though the voice was obscured by the phone and distance, Zitao accepted his defeat and did what he was told.
After the call, Zitao dialed his father's number to apologize and to tell him that they could do whatever they wanted with him.
Yes, it meant packing all his things and going back to China. Yes, it meant leaving his group. Yes, it meant flying to America to get his broken bones treated. Even though there was a part of him that was screaming at him that he was making a wrong decision, that he was such a disappointed, that he was nothing but a big fat liar who only gave empty promise, the voice rang louder in his ears and helped him swallow what he deemed as his bitter failure and left.
“Don't worry, Taozi,” Minseok messaged him with a smiling emoticon, “I'm not mad at you. I completely understand. Please, don't forget that I love you.”
Sehun sighed during their video call on Skype, and said, “Fine, I hate you. But, let's be real, you should take care of yourself now. Just get everything treated and do whatever it is that's best for you.”
When Zitao arrived in Los Angeles, he was free from toxic schedules for the first time in his life after a very long time. Unfortunately, after his schedules with his doctors and therapists, he did not know what to do with himself. During these times, his own voice berated him from what he had done. Despite some of his members reassurances, he could not help but still feel that he was indeed making a mistake.
He was itching to go back to the practice room he knew so well in Seoul. He felt dancing in front of its mirrors and watch himself move with the wallpaper of clouds and blue sky behind him. He should be really there even though he was practically useless. He should be supporting his group as they push themselves to attend their schedules. That was what he promised. Why did he let that one phone call – that voice – to control him effortlessly?
“Stop it, Zitao,” Yixing scolded him over the phone. Zitao called the older boy because he thought the he would understand him. Apparently not. “Face it, Zitao,” he said after taking a deep breath, “there's nothing for your here anymore.”
“That's not true!” Zitao yelled, hurt. How could he say that? Of course, there were a lot of things for him in Seoul. In his group. Yixing was even one of them. What was he talking about?
“It is, Zitao,” Yixing replied and Zitao could imagine the older boy's sweet smile – the smile he gave him when it was just the two of them left, the smile he gave him to promise him that he would take care of him like the other two did, the smile he gave him to promise that he would not leave him. “I'm actually impressed that you lasted this long. To be honest, I actually thought that you won't be coming back with us to Seoul after our Beijing concert...”
“What?” Zitao exclaimed in disbelief.
Yixing chuckled. “Look at yourself in a mirror, Zitao,” he told him, making Zitao confused, “try to tell that person you see in there that you can live with us without having him here,” he continued as Zitao really did look at himself in a full length mirror that was in his temporary bedroom, “if you can – I know you'll be honest with me – then I'll try to find a way to get you back here.”
Zitao was quiet for a long time. It was true that things had changed since he left. He could not even remember the things he did after his departure. Everything went by in a blur. It was like being thrown to the sea. It was like drowning in a nightmare. It was like fighting to breathe every single second.
He was Zitao's air. He was the hands that held him up on the ground. He was the arms that caught him every time he fell. He was the shoulders he had leaned on when standing up was the most impossible thing to do in the world.
He was Zitao's life line.
“Don't come back here anymore, Zitao,” Yixing said, not waiting for an answer anymore. Zitao's silence was enough. “I believe you're doing the right thing,” he added, “now, just get better, write songs, make music and...go back to China and meet him, God knows how short you can last without him.”
“I'll try...” Zitao trails off, doubtful.
“Do it, Zitao,” Yixing emphasized, “he's waiting for you.”
Zitao did what he was told. He pushed himself during his sessions at the rehab and willed his battered foot to function.
It was painful.
He almost gave up.
How he wished he could just chop off that part of his body.
“He's waiting for you.”
Yixing's words ran inside his head like a spell. So, Zitao got back to his feet. He had to get better. Better enough to stand straight. Better enough to walk without flinching. Better enough to run without feeling any pain. Better enough to jump from the ground even for just a second. Better enough to dance with the beat he was making.
Better enough to go anywhere he wanted to go.
Every now and then, Zitao would get random voice mails while he was asleep. It seemed that the owner of the voice had no intention of talking to him or else he would have had agreed to when Zitao asked him by leaving his own voice mail while the other was asleep in the opposite side of the world. He could easily miss one night of sleep just to talk to him. However, Zitao decided to just let him be.
“He's waiting for you.”
Those words were enough.
To take his minds off things – his former group, his impending legal battle with his Korean agency, his injury and the person he was aching to see, Zitao poured himself to making music. He had launched his own studio in China and his father was overseeing everything for him. His old man told him to concentrate on his craft and make enough new material for his fans if he would dare to brave the suffering music industry in his home country. So, with his friend, he wrote lyrics after lyrics and put music in them and recorded them with the help of other producers in Los Angeles.
After wrapping them up, Zitao would drag his mother out of the house they were staying at and take her to malls, shops, amusement parks, restaurants, etc. The woman deserved to be spoiled for tolerating a very complicated son for the last twenty-three years of her life after all. Fans would spot them most of the time and pictures of him walking on the streets would be uploaded on the Internet in no time. Sometimes, when he was feeling generous, he would update his Weibo and Instagram.
After three months of taking a break, Zitao would be coming back home. Back to China. Back on stage. Finally. A lot of feelings – good and bad – were swirling inside his chest. He had been gone for awhile. He had to work hard to be accepted again.
The number of people who hated him grew.
Because he was a coward.
Because he was a liar.
Because he ran away.
Zitao felt like staying in Los Angeles forever. Maybe he could pursue a different path. Away from peope who would only say hurtful things to him. However, his mother reminded him that he worked hard on his new songs, new choreography, new music videos. He could not let all those to go to waste. There was no turning back now.
Yixing's voice came to his head again.
“He's waiting for you.”
That was enough to gain back the courage he would need.
Zitao would like to think that it was his schedule that kept him from staying in Beijing during his first few weeks in China. It was not his fault that the shows he had to shoot were in Guangzhou, Changsha and Shanghai. It was not his fault that he had to travel constantly to fulfill his commitments. However, maybe he was right. Maybe he intended to choose activities outside the capital. He did not know why. He could not understand.
But there was a part of him that was scared.
Scared to set foot in his hometown.
Scared to breathe the same air as him.
Scared to stand before him.
Scared to meet his eyes with his.
The last time Zitao saw him was almost a year ago. Eleven months. It already felt like another lifetime. It was that long.
Zitao asked himself if he could really just bring himself to see him. Would things align themselves according on how he would want to see them? Every night, Zitao would go back to that time back in September when he was dragged out of the hotel room he was sharing with Sehun to buy some overpriced coffee and painstakingly sweet pastries at the cafe at the ground floor of the hotel they were staying at. They finished everything at his hotel room because he had it all to himself unlike Zitao. Then, Zitao saw the sad and exhausted pair of eyes focusing on him and, just like that, he knew what words would his ears be hearing next.
No words came from Zitao's mouth. All he could was cry his heart out. The anger and the hurt when he was subjected to the same situation the first time were nowhere to be found. All he had was heartbreaking numbness. It was like watching his world lose its color and he had no power to stop it.
He cried so hard.
So hard as if his life depended on it.
Zitao could not even remember the pair of short fragile arms that gathered his tall frame. All he could recall was waking up in surprise in the middle of the night after falling asleep on a bed that he was not assigned to use. When he turned to his side, he saw the sleeping beauty beside him. He was sharing the same bed as him. Something he would never thought he could ever do.
On the day that they were on their way back to Seoul, Zitao spent all his remaining time in Beijing by staring at him. The atmosphere was heavy. Everyone already knew about his decision. It did not sit well with some. Zitao wished he could have helped with the explaining. He wanted to shield him from the looks they were giving him. However, the usual sweet smile forced to appear and directed itself at Zitao, making him stay silent in his place.
“I can take care of this, Zitao. You look after yourself in the meantime.”
Zitao gave a nod. It was a promise. A promise he failed to fulfill.
Fever and injuries were not new to Zitao in his career. He was able to bear them all. Because he was there with him. Even if his body felt so heavy, there was always a pair of arms supporting him to stand on his feet. When those pair of arms disappeared, Zitao had to drag himself every single day.
His world had lost its focus. It went off its rotation. He found himself completely lost with the staff and their schedules to lead him where he should be.
It was too late for him to realize that he was already falling straight on the basketball court's floor with a brutal pain in his left foot.
His mind was screaming for his name. He wished he would suddenly appear beside him, not only to help him up, but also to let him cling onto his arms as he cried from the pain.
Zitao almost called and asked him to come to Seoul for him. However, he knew it would be a very childish thing to do. He was busy with his own commitments and dealing with his own health problems. A plane ride would just aggravate his anxiety. Zitao's injured foot was nothing compared to his anxiety. He must deal with his injury like a big boy he already was.
His attempts to stay strong and brave were futile. However, despite his father's insistent to leave his group, he still insisted to stay.
He was lost, desperate and stupid.
When his father asked him why he still wanted to stay, he went crazy. He could not find a single answer to that. It was like even his promise to stay was no longer enough to justify his stubbornness.
There really was no more reason fro him to stay. Yixing was right. Zitao did not realize it and he thought he would be just fine. However, the person who made things easier for him by just standing by his side had already left, taking all his strength with him.
There was nothing there for him anymore. Zitao could not believe that he was able to hang on for months. He should have followed right away or begged the other to take him. What the hell was he doing?
“What are you doing?” Yixing demanded over the phone.
“Right now?” Zitao asked as he threw his luggage on his bed.
“Don't shit on me, Huang Zitao,” Yixing snapped, pissed.
Zitao froze. He knew what Yixing was talking about.
“You know what, don't answer that anymore,” Yixing told him, frustrated, “just get your butt to Beijing and stop being such a baby.”
The call ended.
What was he doing? How could he blame his schedule for not only using Beijing as a transit? He was no longer tied with a rigid, structured agency. He opened his own studio and had his own management team. He was calling the shots now. He was the one in control now.
Zitao was missing him so much. He was yearning for him. He was aching to be with him. Still, meeting him after such a long time was scaring him.
What if there was nothing there for him also? Where would he go? He left the place he treated as his home for five years to follow his star – the star that had gone way out of his reach in just a short period of time.
What if the late night voice messages did not mean that much? What if he was the only one thinking that there could be something for him? What if Yixing was wrong? What if he was not waiting for him that way after all? Where would he go? Nothing was impossible in this world. It was possible that Lu Han might have no place for Zitao in his life. Zitao would not survive that.
“There's only one way to find out, Zitao.”
Zitao looked up to his mother, who was smiling at him tenderly.
“I can't...” Zitao trailed off. Maybe he could just let his fear drown him. Maybe he could be better off with that.
“Don't tell me you went all the way here just to hide,” his mother said, shaking her head at her son's silliness.
“What if...” Zitao replied, unable to ask the question that was haunting him.
“Go and find out,” his mother told him, firm, “I'll always be right here to catch you anyway.”
Following his mother's advice, Zitao went out and seek him. Yixing made sure that he would be at the right place and the right time.
Yixing led him to a dance studio. Zitao realized that it was the same dance studio he would be using for his concert rehearsal. Coincidence? Fate? Zitao did not have enough time to think about that. He was there. At the same place as Zitao. Inside one of the practice rooms that the studio had.
Zitao felt like trespassing. What if he was not allowed to meet him? The fear of rejection loomed over him. Zitao allowed it to take over him and make him freeze in the middle of the empty lobby. He knew he was probably looking stupid but he could not bring himself to move. He wished he could storm out of the place as soon as possible.
The sound of his favorite voice called his name. Zitao's ears perked up. Suddenly, the fear clouding him vanished and he slowly regained control of his body.
Taking a deep breath, Zitao turned to his right and saw the person he was missing the most. He could not help but smile.
Lu Han smiled back at him. It was not like the smile he gave him the last time they saw each other. That was tired and forced. This one was real and perfect. The smile he knew so well during the time they were just starting their unknown journey to their wildest dreams. The smile was reaching the owner's beautiful eyes, causing them to twinkle brightly despite the daylight.
Zitao watched Lu Han take a step towards him, and said, “It took me awhile. I'm so sorry.”
“I thought you don't want to see me,” Lu Han replied, frowning.”
Zitao widened his eyes.
“I was just really scared,” Zitao said, shaking his head, “but, I wanted to see you so bad.”
Lu Han laughed, and replied, “Silly boy, it's just me.”
“I was just being...” he trailed off and tears began falling from his eyes.
“Dumb,” Lu Han teased as he finally stood before Zitao in an arm's length.
Zitao's eyes went frantically all over Lu Han. His hair – dark and parted at the center, making him handsome like he wanted, but frizzy from all the dye jobs it went through. His adorable nose and smooth cheeks – makeup never really served its purpose when it came to him, he was naturally perfect without them. His lips – chapped from extreme air conditioning of the dance studio but covered with his favorite lip balm.
Zitao's eyes met Lu Han's and a pair of hands cupped his face and wiped his tears away. How he had missed his touch so much.
“We're here,” Zitao repeated, “I'm so sorry for making you wait.”
The smile before Zitao widened and, all of the sudden, he was roughly pulled out of the lobby and into one of the empty practice rooms nearby. Zitao did not have enough to register everything that was happening as Lu Han softly pushed him against the wall and tiptoed to meet his lips with his. Zitao was too shock to respond.
“Don't tell me you're not going to do anything after making me wait,” Lu Han teased, grinning.
Zitao could not remember the last time he felt mischievous. Mischievous enough to make himself form a smirk with his lips. However, he knew he missed feeling it like how he missed the person before him.
Without wasting anymore time, Zitao cupped Lu han's small face with his hands and kissed him.
Zitao wanted Lu Han to feel how much he had longed for him. How much he was never ever going to let him go again. He could only feel happy that Lu Han seemed to feel the same way as he wrapped his arms around his neck to deepen the kiss.